PARAMUS, N.J. – Eun Jeong Seong rallied from an early deficit to defeat Andrea Lee, 4 and 2, in the final match to win the 68th U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship Saturday and become the first back-to-back champion since Hollis Stacy won her third straight in 1971.
“It’s a little bit different feel than last year,” said Seong, of the Republic of Korea. “Last year, it was a little bit hard. But I trusted myself today, and I have confidence. This morning was so hard because I was losing 5 down, but it’s OK because I had a lot of holes (left).”
Seong, who was 5 down through 13 holes of the 36-hole match, becomes the third player to win consecutive titles, joining Stacy and Judy Eller (1957 and 1958). Stacy also won three U.S. Women’s Open Championships.
Admitting that she had not heard of Stacy, Seong noted, “My mom was born in 1971.”
The 16-year-old champion joined Stacy, Eller and Nancy Lopez (1972 and 1974) as the fourth multiple winner of the championship.
In the morning 18, Lee, 17 and an incoming freshman at Stanford University, won six of the first 11 holes to stake a 5-up lead, including four straight on holes 6 through 9.
However, the 2015 champion rebounded to win three of the next four holes, two by birdies, to cut Lee’s lead to 3 up through 15 holes.
Lee, of Hermosa Beach, Calif., a three-time quarterfinalist in five Girls’ Juniors, added her sixth birdie (against two bogeys) of the morning 18 on the par-4 16th for a 4-up advantage, but lost the 18th with bogey for a lead of 3 up at the lunch break.
Seong, who had made three birdies and four bogeys, won four of the last seven holes for a swing in momentum as the players reached the halfway point.
“I’m definitely proud of myself,” said Lee, who was a member of the 2016 USA Curtis Cup Team last month. “This is my first time reaching the finals of a USGA championship, and I’m just really thankful to have gotten this far. It was a great match today against my friend, and I played really well in the morning, had her down, but she just played really great in the afternoon.”
Seong, who was the runner-up in the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links, began the afternoon 18 with a flourish, winning holes 19, 22 and 23 to square the match.
The pair swapped the next four holes to keep the match square, but then Seong made her move.
She made a 7-foot birdie putt on the 29th hole to gain her first lead of the match.
Faced with an uphill, almost-blind third shot from the left edge of the fairway on the next hole, the par-5 30th, Seong launched a 60-degree wedge from 42 yards that hit the flagstick and dropped in the hole for a winning eagle and a 2-up lead.
“It was right between the fairway and rough, just too hard,” Seong said of her eagle. “I just thought about ‘Go on the green, please’. But, it (went) in the hole.”
“She dumped one on me on the par 5, it flew in, and I think that might have been the turning point there,” Lee said. “I tried to get back in it, birdied the next hole, but she matched it. She just made the putts that she needed to, and I didn’t.”
On the 32nd, Seong won with a par when Lee three-putted the sloping green for a 3-up lead. After the pair halved the par-3 33rd, Seong hit the green in regulation on the 34th and Lee missed the green in the back-left rough. Lee’s chip stopped 15 short of the hole.
Seong then holed a 40-foot birdie putt to win the hole and the match.
“It was really nothing much I could do,” Lee said. “She played really well in the afternoon, and I played well in the morning, but obviously I just had to end it well, and I wasn’t able to do that.”
The pair had previously met in the quarterfinals of the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur, with Lee taking a 2-and-1 victory and a place in the semifinals.
The 2016 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship consists of 36 holes of stroke play, followed by six rounds of match play, concluding with Saturday’s 36-hole championship.
The winner receives a gold medal and custody of the Glenna Collett Vare Trophy for one year.
Seong and Lee gain exemptions into the 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Rolling Green Golf Club in Springfield, Pa., Aug. 1-7.
Provided they remain age-eligible, all quarterfinalists are exempt from qualifying for the 2017 U.S. Girls’ Junior at Boone Valley Golf Club, in Augusta, Mo., near St. Louis (July 24-29).
The U.S. Girls’ Junior is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.
PARAMUS, N.J. – Results from Saturday’s 36-hole championship match in the 2016 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, played at The Ridgewood Country Club’s 6,406-yard, par 36-37-73 composite course:
Eun Jeong Seong, Republic of Korea (143) def. Andrea Lee, Hermosa Beach, Calif. (148), 4 and 2